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Rain may leave NHRA with tough call at Winternationals

Pomona event could have qualifying wiped out completely if rain continues.

February 07, 2009|Jim Peltz

NHRA officials hope to squeeze in two rounds of qualifying today ahead of Sunday's drag races in Pomona after Friday's qualifying was rained out.

The original schedule for the Kragen O'Reilly Winternationals, the opening race in the NHRA's Full Throttle Series, called for three days of qualifying and final eliminations Sunday at Auto Club Raceway.

But with the first two days washed out, and the possibility that qualifying could be erased entirely by more rain today, the question surfaced whether the National Hot Rod Assn. might be forced to have last year's point leaders race in Sunday's eliminations.

The sanctioning body will not make any decision about Sunday's schedule until it sees whether qualifying can be held today, said NHRA spokesman Michael Padian. The rounds are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Fans with Friday tickets can exchange the tickets' face value for seats today or Sunday, the NHRA said.

Meanwhile, drivers in the series' two premier classes, top fuel and funny cars, waited out the rain Friday instead of racing at 300 mph. "It is frustrating," said funny car driver Tim Wilkerson, 48, who won six times last year but lost the championship to Cruz Pedregon.

"We have a brand spanking new Ford Mustang" that has not yet been tested, "so this is going to hurt me," he said. "But you can't fix the weather."

Wilkerson said there have been times when eliminations were held without qualifying.

"We've done that a couple of times over the last 10 years," he said. "It's a real crapshoot. Nobody's had a shot down the track. I'd like to get at least one [qualifying] run in. But it's possible we couldn't, and if we get into that situation, then everybody's at the same advantage or disadvantage."

Stewart on a roll

James Stewart is feeling more comfortable on his motorcycle, and that can't be good news for Chad Reed and the rest of Stewart's supercross rivals.

After Stewart collided with Reed in the season opener of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series in Anaheim, which knocked Stewart out of the race, Stewart won the next four races, including last week's event in San Francisco.

Reed, the reigning series champion, still clings to a six-point lead over Stewart in this year's standings and holds a 13-point lead over third-place Josh Grant of Riverside, who won the season opener after Stewart and Reed crashed.

Now the series returns to Anaheim tonight -- three of the first series' first six races are at Angel Stadium -- with Stewart growing more confident despite the possibility of a muddy track from the storms in Southern California.

And it's worth noting that supercross races rain or shine.

"In the first three races I struggled pretty badly" with the motorcycle's handling, said Stewart, who won the series title in 2007 but missed most of last season with a knee injury.

But at the fourth race, in Houston, "something clicked," Stewart said. "We got my bike working a lot better and I've felt a lot more comfortable in the last two races."

Stewart, 23, recovered from his knee injury to dominate the motocross season last year and win that series' championship. (Supercross is the stadium version of motocross off-road motorcycle racing.)

Stewart then changed rides, moving to a Yamaha team from Kawasaki, as did Reed, who switched to Suzuki from Yamaha.

Despite winning the last four races, Stewart said "it's easy to get up [for the next race] because at one point I was down 23 points" in the championship.

"Now I'm only down six points," he said. "I have to get the point lead and build on top of that."

Menard crashes

Paul Menard, the pole-sitter for tonight's Budweiser Shootout, crashed with Scott Speed during practice at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.

If his car can't be fixed, Menard would have to switch cars and start from the back of the 28-car field; Reed Sorenson would become the pole-sitter.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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